India flights to resume with new rules


Australia is set to lift the India flight ban from May 15, with new quarantine plans in place for anyone returning from the COVID-ravaged nation.

Cabinet's National Security Committee has signed off on a plan to start repatriating Aussies almost as soon as the temporary ban lifts next week, with the first flight bringing around 200 passengers home, according to the ABC.

There will be just one flight per week, with around 900 Australians listed as "vulnerable" by the Department of Foreign Affairs given priority, the broadcaster reported.

Passengers will need to have two negative tests before they can fly and all Australians returning from India will quarantine at the Howard Springs quarantine facility in Darwin.

Scott Morrison is due to announce the details tomorrow as he meets state and territory leaders at national cabinet. The Prime Minister has come under pressure to reverse the suspension of travel between Australia and India, with some claiming the policy was "racist" and "disgraceful".

But Mr Morrison earlier today insisted the ban, announced on April 27, was the "right decision" to avoid a third wave in Australia and citizens were returned "safely and sustainably".

Federal health minister Greg Hunt has said the Government is working on tripling the capacity of the Howard Springs facility.

Just after midnight on Saturday, the Government announced travel arrangements for India had been "strengthened" and warned those in breach could face jail time or heavy fines.

But Mr Morrison insisted the powers had been in place for 14 months under the Biosecurity Act and accused the media of exaggerating the "highly remote" chance of fines or jail time.

A 73-year old Australian stranded in India has filed a legal challenge to the travel ban in the Federal Court, with 9000 Aussies trapped in the country.

"Australia is the only country in the world that has attempted to prevent, by law, its own citizens from coming home - and the legal basis for this is in the act," lawyer Michael Bradley said.

"I do think that there's a solid case to argue that this ban on citizens returning from India is illegal."

The UN Human Rights Commission this week also raised "serious concerns" over the travel ban, warning there were "few, if any circumstances" that justified stripping citizens of their right to return.

Australia's Indian Premier League stars have been flown out of India after the T20 tournament was suspended, Cricket Australia confirmed on Thursday.

The Aussie talent - including David Warner, Steve Smith, Pat Cummins and Ricky Ponting - were en route to the Maldives, approximately 2800 kilometres south of India, the statement said.

They will remain there "until the conclusion of the travel pause pertaining to flights from India to Australia", Cricket Australia added, thanking the Board of Control for Cricket in India "for their responsiveness in moving the Australians from India to the Maldives" less than two days after the IPL suspension decision.

"As previously stated, CA and the ACA are not seeking an exemption from the Australian Government," the statement read.



The Prime Minister has rejected claims that his Indian flight ban "stinks of racism", as Andrew Bolt put it, saying he was making the "hard calls" that have helped save 30,000 Australian lives.

"If we had the fatality rate of COVID that the average of all the OECD countries had … 30,000 more people would have died in Australia," he said.

"It's a staggering figure. And we've prevented that here in Australia. But it also meant we've had to take some unpopular decisions. This is one and my heart breaks for the Indian community but I assure them I am going to restore those repatriation flights once we can get them safely back to Australia."

The Prime Minister insisted the flight ban was based on medical advice. "I have clear advice from the chief medical officer that this is a decision that is supported."

However, chief medical officer Paul Kelly told Sky News the jail threat was not ordered by him.

Prof Kelly said the criminal punishment was a separate part of Australia's Biosecurity Act, but health authorities had not been asked to advise on that section of the government act.

"Let's be very clear, we were asked for public health advice on the nature of threat, how long (a measure) was needed, that was the advice given," he told Sky News.

"We weren't asked about penalties."


Originally published as India flights to resume with new rules

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